Calvin for Lent

By an imaginative grace in the mind of a Presbyterian minister, we were invited to spend part of a seminary year in Geneva, Switzerland, underneath the shadow the great mountains, the Alps, of that region. The minister was the Rev. George Todd, a founder two decades earlier of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, a still exemplary incarnation of community engagement against poverty, against racism, against bigotry, against xenophobia, against sexism, against the notion that the 'poor you have always with you'. Apparently, given the rhetoric and revelations of this political season in the United States, we still have a great deal of work to do. Would somebody please shut the windows of heaven, that the saints need not hear our current discourse, language lastingly insulting to Mexicans, to Muslims, to women, by coarse extension to others who are other, and with the capacity for lasting hurt, especially in the ears of our children. Shut the windows of heaven. George and Kathy Todd, with others, raised a generation of ministers and missioners, now the subject of a fine, new study, in a dissertation just completed here at Boston University, by a friend of Marsh Chapel, Ada Focer.

George corralled us, and a few others, to work for him at the World Council of Churches, whence he had recently gone, to provide, as he growled, 'heat, light, and running water'. Jan, you can still overhear, in those months, accompanied by piano the World Council mid-week worship service, with Emilio Castro or Philip Potter preaching. To think back upon George Todd's influence, now decades past, is to scale up a great high peak, and to look out upon the vast beauty and need of a human race, longing, in such odd ways, for the presence of Christ. As we complete this decade's reflection at Marsh Chapel, in dialogue with Calvin for Lent, George and others like him stand up and stand out as signs of hope for the future.

One summer Saturday that year we left Geneva, John Calvin's city, and we drove an old car, a 'deux chevaux', a 'two horse', to find our way into the mountains. After a while we transferred to a train, going higher still, and then later from Zermatt to Gornergratt, along old railroad lines. As the sun came to a noonday brilliance, a cable car took us thence to the top of a great mountain, snow in July, and the powerful height, the pristine beauty of the creation, a hint of the power and majesty of Calvin's view of the Creator. Calvin is seen best from the pinnacle of the Matterhorn. For this theological height, for this reverence for the divine freedom, for this austere, awesome vista, in his work, we are lastingly thankful, notwithstanding all and many profound disagreements along the railway up and forward.

(From the sermon, Calvin For Lent, Dean Robert Allan Hill, Marsh Chapel, Boston University, March 13, 2016)